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New year, new home for WWII veteran

TAXI caught up with 96-year-old veteran, Harry Rawlins, and volunteer, Anne Parsons, who have become great friends.

Anne was instrumental in arranging Harry’s recent move to the Royal Hospital Chelsea…

Good to see you Harry and thank you for talking to TAXI about your move to the Royal Hospital. How long had you lived in your home?

Harry: I had lived there since 1935, when I was ten years old, except for my military service (1943 to 1947) and two six-year periods which I spent working in Australia and New Zealand.

What will you miss about living in your own home?

Harry: I have been an avid reader for many years and have a large collection of books on a variety of subjects including politics, military history, and horticulture. Unfortunately, there isn’t room for me to have these books at the Royal Hospital so that’s what I will miss the most.

What are you most looking forward to about living at the Royal Hospital?

Harry: I am going to enjoy the comradeship and social life and hope to be mobile enough to participate in some of the events and activities that they organise.

Do you know anyone at Chelsea?

Harry: It’s early days but I have made several new acquaintances already. Willie, the Ward Representative, is my next-door-neighbour and has been helping me settle in and I share a table at mealtimes with three other In Pensioners who I am getting to know. Major Phil Shannon our Captain of Invalids has also been extremely helpful.

How do you think you will feel when you first wear your scarlets?

Harry: I will be extremely proud and will think of all the soldiers who have worn the Scarlets before me. We don’t wear them daily, just for official events and ceremonies, so I am not sure when I will first wear them, but I am looking forward to Founders Day, which of course is a very important date in the Royal Hospital’s calendar, when we also wear the famous Tricorn hats.

What difference has the Taxi Charity made to your life over the last few years?

Harry: The charity has given me the opportunity to join their wonderful trips both abroad and in the UK, as well as other events, such as the annual Christmas Lunch. These have really taken me out of myself and re-opened my world. I have got to know several of the drivers and other volunteers, all of whom are friendly and helpful; they cannot do enough for us veterans. As I have said many times, “It was worth getting shot at, to join this merry band.”

What would you say to any cab drivers who were considering volunteering for the Taxi Charity?

Harry: Don’t hesitate, join in if you can. We veterans really appreciate all they do for us. You are the finest cab drivers in the world.

Hi Anne, good to meet you. How long have you been volunteering for the Taxi Charity?

Anne: I have accompanied the charity on numerous trips and events, just helping out where I can but my first experience was on the 2016 trip to Belgium and the Menin Gate. I didn’t feel that useful at first but soon made up for that as there was an ongoing need for someone to match up lost walking sticks with their owners, and that’s how I started to get to know the veterans!

How has your relationship with Harry developed over the last few years?

Anne: Harry is a delight to know so it wasn’t hard to befriend him. I first met him in June 2019 on the charity’s trip to Normandy and I started visiting him after that. Then when lockdown happened in March 2020, I ensured that we spoke daily so I could check he was safe as he lived alone without friends or family nearby and formed a ‘Covid bubble’ with him. This enabled me to help him in a variety of ways, little things at first such as sorting out his computer problems and arranging kerbside bin collections, a pendant fall alarm and grocery deliveries. More importantly, I organised and took him for his jabs and medical appointments as well as helping him apply for attendance allowance and the renewal of his disabled parking badge. He knows he can call on me for any help he needs, and we have a lovely relationship, just chatting and having a giggle together.

How did the process of getting Harry a place at the Royal Hospital Chelsea work?

Anne: Harry did not think he would be eligible but once he realised there was a chance to live at the Royal Hospital it was a matter of us filling out quite lengthy application forms together. This was in July and then we waited for their response, which thankfully advised they had started the process. Next there were some telephone interviews, followed by references and then a four-day trial stay to see if he liked the experience and also that they felt him suitable. His trial stay took place in mid-November, and he soon heard he had been successful, then it all happened really quickly and within two weeks, he became an ‘In Pensioner’ as Chelsea Pensioners are known.

How does it make you feel that you have successfully got a very deserving soldier into the Royal Hospital?

Anne: It is a great relief to know he will finally be safe and looked after as a Chelsea Pensioner. Harry is a really modest, highly decorated WWII veteran and truly deserves his place at the Royal Hospital. The decision to move has been a hard one for him, having lived so long in the family home, but I have been keeping in touch and I am so happy that he is enjoying his new life there. He hopes to have his full uniform by January along with the famous Scarlets. I visited him on Christmas Eve, and he told me he now enjoys three meals a day. We joked that he may have to cut back on the food a little to avoid his trousers needing to be let out!


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